If you still manage to trawl through the myriads of our national newspapers you can’t have missed the daily exposé of billions of naira, millions of pounds and dollars being stolen by kleptomaniacs. That power is used for wanton stealing and that Nigerian officials are drowning the country in open cesspits of corruption, to these there is now a consensus. Most of the findings about Nigeria are what the country is. They include, it is a country characterised with very poor quality of leadership. A State without statesmen, completely mired in corruption which has left its people in anomie. If you care, mention the word Nigeria to a stranger and immediately you are taken to be referring to a habitat of scammers of sorts. The hustlers’ paradise.
There is hardly a metaphor that Nigeria does not pass for. It has been referred to as an African tragedy, a moral dilemma, an illogic and more. These are not mine imagination. I implore you to read most of the comments from our chattering class and any of the international and diplomatic reports on Nigeria, and you will find these words frequently used or implied in narrating the country.
It is admirable that most of our commentators are now making the necessary link between official stealing and the lack of basic infrastructure in the country. Owing to them, we are now aware that our bare schools, poor hospitals, bad roads, insecurity, high rate of unemployment, high maternal mortality, breakdown of law and order, and yes, Boko Haram are due to unrelenting stealing of public money. Some may consider its members as nihilists, without clear objectives only bent on starting a sectarian war. I differ. If we ever spare a minute to consider other societies similarly existing in moral vacuum, like Somalia, DR Congo, Afghanistan, Pakistan, we will quickly find that Boko Haram and their variants are the by-products of miserable existence. If there have been a responsible government responding to the basic needs of all Nigerians, Boko Haram would not have existed
The questions many ask are: why is it that despite all the shouting noises from the press and sundry about our national decay there have not been an improvement in governance? Why are those in power so assured of their power that they fail to heed all the free advice on what should be done, frequently offered? Why are they so contemptuous of every other Nigerian except those within the corridors of power? Why does a country with abundance of natural resources remain one of the poorest in the world? All these are concerns that ought to send us all into deep thinking. While we ponder on the above questions, the ultimate question however, is, what can we do to get ourselves out of our depths of despair?
I believe there are many things we can do with the “urgency of now’’ as Chido Onumah echoing Martin Luther King calls it. Before getting on what we can do, let me say what we should not continue to do. Let no Nigerian continue to be under the illusion that President Jonathan can or will slay the ogre of corruption. He can’t. Not now, or in the next six years, if he is minded to go for a second term. Jonathan’s brief is not to fight the monster scotching the Nigerian landscape.
If there was any sniff of Jonathan willing to fight corruption, he would have been kept away from the Presidency. Ironically, I have some sympathy for President Jonathan. The forces around him with some justification see Nigerians as a conquered people. This is why he is doing their bidding rather than fight for us – the plebs. Think about it, what reasons have we provided Jonathan to fight for us instead of standing cheek-by-jowl with those who stole to pay for his presidency? This is the main reason for appointing Chief Anthony Anenih, the Chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority without regard to our sensibility. Anenih should be answering serious questions connected with his past public offices and not being elevated to another high public office.
We perpetually bemoan our national misfortune rather than act as free citizens. We must change the language of our conversation to – what can we do to improve our collective lives. We have complained and cried enough. It’s now boring. If we want a decent nation then we must work for that nation.
How are we then to build a great nation? Our friends in Europe, America and Asia have suggested that we should be bold to ask our leaders questions, build strong institutions and actively engage in the democratic process to ensure that our votes determine who governs – that is government by consent and not by plutocrats. I shall return to the advice. Briefly, let me talk about one of our preoccupation – revolution, a subject I have briefly commented on in the past. Some of us believe that it is the sure way of changing Nigeria for the better.
Again, I recognise its obvious attraction to those who support it. It is quick in dispensing justice. It evokes shock and awe in the minds of power abusers. For Nigeria, I remain unconvinced about revolution. Are Nigerians of revolutionary disposition? Secondly, after revolution – what? How do you ensure that revolutionary leaders do not become the new oppressors or, the characters in George Orwell’s – Animal Farm, (the higher Animals)?
I am unsure about violent revolution, but absolutely committed to non-violent revolution. I believe that there are not many political progress achieved with the former, that have not been matched by the latter through protests, pressure, demonstrations, civil disobedience, persuasions, debates and political engagement. They are all legitimate democratic processes. It is for this reason that I find it bewildering how we continue to ignore the advice of the world.
You may rightly argue that we do not have to follow the very best of the democratic actions of the Western world. If that is your view, then consider these – is it right that we are happy to outsource the functions of our law enforcement agencies to Britain, where James Ibori is held at Her Majesty’s pleasure for stealing our money. Is it right for us to expect the West to arrest and imprison those who have stolen our country blind, in the absence of evidence that the West coerced them into carrying out their nefarious acts? Is it justified that our officials and their families regularly fly to Europe and America for medical treatments, while the rest of the population are left to meet certain death in our bare hospitals? These are relevant questions to reflect on. The functioning judiciary, good roads, better economy, good hospitals, good schools in Europe and America exit because their citizens fought for them and will not settle for less. That is why only those genuinely committed to public service get into politics.
If we want to improve our living conditions we must quickly learn how to organise for change. We must stop relying on individual acts of courageous Nigerians. This will not get us to the Promised Land. But collective acts of individuals through organisation will. Others doubt if we can achieve acts of collective courage, as summed up in the report of the last British Parliamentary Group visit to Nigeria. If we are honest we can see why they expressed their doubt, ‘‘- – – the ongoing and emerging challenges Nigerians and those engaged from outside are seeking to overcome outweigh the energy, resources and commitment dedicated to tackling them.’’ Underline the words – energy, resources, commitment and dedication. They are our obstacles to freedom.
Lack of commitment and dedication has deprived us a lot of lasting political gains. For example, if after the Save Nigeria Group and other Nigerians wrested power from the late Musa Yar’Adua’s cabal and handed it over to then Vice President Jonathan he was made aware of where power lies, a President Jonathan would seriously be fighting corruption now. If also, after the January 2012 fuel subsidy demonstrations, we had through commitment and dedication kept a vigil on the fuel debates and demanded the prosecution of the subsidy scammers, that actions be taken to reduce the cost of governance, we would not be witnessing the shenanigans surrounding the subsidy reports and the bourgeoning cost of governance.
Any cynic opposed to suggestions from Nigerians outside on Nigerian democracy, needs reminding that, in the late 1990s many Nigerians in London stood with NADECO-Abroad against Abacha. In January 2011 and in January 2012, during the demand for Jonathan’s installation and the fuel subsidy demonstrations respectively, some Nigerians stood in front of the Nigerian Embassy in London in solidarity with those at home. Nigerians everywhere are concerned about Nigeria? If you are persuaded that for democratic gains, there needs to be organisation, and for the gains to be sustained, they require the vigilance of dedicated and committed citizens; then you have accepted that real men in Nigeria must stand.
Kingsley Ogbonda writes from London.